Specialist family partner at Curwens, Royston, and member of SRA Family Law Panel and Hertfordshire Law Society Council
My route to the legal profession was rather convoluted. As a teenager I wanted to be British Airways’ first female pilot, but that role was filled before I even left school. My next career choice was journalism, but this dream came to an end after a week of work experience on a local newspaper, reporting on supermarket openings, WI meetings and an annual Christmas pudding stir.
I knew during my LPC year that I wanted to work in litigation. The idea of court work intrigued me, although I wanted the full case involvement that a solicitor has, rather than considering the bar.
Narrowing down the field to just family law was accidental. As the youngest and newest partner in a small London firm, I was told that if I wanted to continue to offer legal aid for our family law clients, I’d need to be the firm’s franchise representative. So I ended up with all the family work and have since gone on to be a longstanding member of Resolution, and later trained as a collaborative lawyer.
I like dealing with high-conflict children cases the least. With young children of my own, I find it hard to take an objective stance and can’t comprehend how some parties simply fail to put the needs of their children first.
Obtaining my first ex parte injunction as a trainee solicitor in Croydon County Court was a great sense of achievement as a lawyer, but my year as the president of Hertfordshire Law Society was a particularly special experience. Being invited to Buckingham Palace for a Queen’s garden party, representing the profession at dinners and events and hosting my own annual dinner was enjoyable but had a steep learning curve. Public speaking, posh dresses and good gavel control were all needed.
My most recent achievement has been completing my first seminar on Family Law to third-year undergraduates at the University of Hertfordshire. Again, I fell into teaching rather by accident. I had reduced my hours working at Curwens by expanding the family team and in my spare time was assisting the university with setting up a new law clinic. However, allowing students to get real client contact needs supervision by qualified solicitors and I was encouraging my peers in the county to get involved. When I mentioned to the dean of the law school that I’d have more time to assist them, it resulted in a job continuing my work with the law clinic and teaching. Taking a role in moulding the next generation of the profession and setting myself new goals has been a great experience, but it only works because of the support Curwens gives me.
I am always keen to pass on my practical experiences of working as a family solicitor to the students. They appreciate this is a great opportunity for them to find out what their future working life could look like, but most are still fixated on the ‘excitement’ of court work, so I try not to dispel the myth too much by revealing how much time is spent waiting around rather than utilising your advocacy skills before a judge.
The law clinic is opening its doors now and we already have lots of clients booked. My role is to supervise the students, who work in pairs, as they interview a client and prepare a detailed letter of advice for them. I am also allowing students to shadow me as I meet with clients and give them initial, verbal advice. This is only the start. The university has plans to work with the local courts to allow students to shadow district judges and magistrates, plus provide a PSU-style service at Watford Family Court to provide some practical assistance to litigants in person in Children Act cases.
On the rare occasion I am not at work in some capacity I like to make the most of living in the countryside – gardening with my children, cooking or preserving the produce from my husband’s allotment, and helping to run the village fete. To really immerse myself in village life, I also took up bell ringing when we first moved there. After 10 years of ringing, I’m still considered a learner – although I did manage my first peal in 2013. That involved ringing non-stop for over three hours. I won’t be doing another one in a hurry!
As no government is going to reverse legal aid cuts, we need to focus on improving ADR access to help couples resolve issues amicably. Some of the long-promised legislation in family law – such as no-fault divorce and cohabitation rights – would be nice too. Of course, by the time I retire, I expect most legal advice to be dealt out by a robot, so it’s just as well I have the bell ringing to fall back on!